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Finding Light on the “Dark Side”

by Todd Rothenhaus, MD, Chief Medical Officer

On hearing that I’d traded my position as CIO of the Steward Health Care System to become Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) of athenahealth, a number of friends and co-workers opined that I had crossed over to The Dark Side.

As far as I can tell, the reference comes from Star Wars, although John Cafferty fans might disagree. Regrettably, the phrase suggests that health IT vendors and their customers are engaged in some sort of battle. Worse it implies that being a provider, whether medical group, hospital, or IDN [integrated delivery network], is somehow “good” – like Luke and Obi-Wan, and that being a health IT vendor is somehow “evil” – like Darth and the Emperor.

I just don’t see it that way.

Every healthcare IT vendor I have ever met has a mission to create software that helps increase revenue, provide better care, or hopefully both. Every health care provider, whether solo, group, or enterprise, buys that software to help them do the same for themselves or their institution.

The problem is that connecting the dots between deployment of software and achieving financial and clinical goals is a complex process. Everyone agrees that software alone can’t improve revenue, decrease costs, or ensure quality care. However, most organizations, including software vendors and their customers, are reticent to acknowledge how much is involved in really transforming the way we do business. Obviously, working together is essential.

In my short time here, I have been struck by how much athenahealth looks and sounds like our clients – especially, being 1,000+ employees strong now, our large enterprise clients. We are doing many of the same things, and on the same athenaNet platform as our clients – together. Every day, athenistas are:

  • Developing strategies to ensure that systems are deployed to maximize clinical outcomes and revenue
  • Studying the rules of meaningful use and other P4P programs, and developing strategies for helping physicians meet their goals, including the capacity to report on their behalf
  • Developing pathways whereby practices can become NCQA recognized patient-centered medical homes
  • Re-engineering processes to improve care coordination between hospital, physicians, and other health care providers
  • Thinking about novel ways to leverage technology and engage patients between visits, to truly manage chronic disease

My new CEO, Jonathan Bush, dubbed me the Lorax in an earlier post. My job at athenahealth is to speak for doctors (and other clinicians) in the myriad of activities that make up what we do. To that end, I’ll be travelling to meet existing users and potential clients, and listen to your issues and suggestions. Then I’ll spend time with our product, implementation, user experience, content, and clinical intelligence teams, to help improve what we do. I’ll also be spending time on risk management and compliance, which we take very seriously.

Whether you are a physician or not, I welcome your thoughts on how to improve the services we make available so you can provide better care – and continue getting paid for the hard work you do. I’d also love to hear from fellow CMIOs and CIOs who are interested in exploring ways we can work together or just share ideas.

Next week, I’ll talk a little more about my experiences with EHR deployment and adoption, or as Jonathan so delicately puts it, the Burn Unit.

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